Defense Department Inaction Is Hurting Effort to Improve Pentagon Efficiency

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Officials are nearly two years late in meeting some congressional requirements, a watchdog found.

The Pentagon’s Chief Management Officer has failed to fulfill requirements intended to improve collaboration across the Defense Department, undermining efforts to improve organizational efficiency, a congressional watchdog found. As a result, the department is 21 months behind in complying with a 2017 law.

“DOD has faced organizational, management, and cultural challenges that can limit effective and efficient collaboration needed to accomplish departmental objectives,” the Government Accountability Office reported on Tuesday. Section 911 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 sought to address the lack of strategic integration across the department through seven requirements designed to strengthen collaboration and management, but so far Defense has completed only two. 

The department has failed to create an organizational strategy, cross-functioning team guidance, cross-functioning team training and presidential appointee training. It also hasn’t reported on successes and failures of cross-functioning teams. So far, it has just completed a study on implementation of cross-functioning teams and a report on establishment of cross-functioning teams.

The watchdog attributed the lack of progress to the Chief Management Officer not approving or coordinating documentation drafted on the requirements, setting timelines for all requirements and establishing plans for funding of the cross-functional team. Defense officials told GAO there were “disagreements over responsibility for funding the team” under the terms of a memorandum by former Defense Secretary James Mattis. The Chief Management Officer’s office and Joint Staff each believed the other was responsible for it. “Because the team was not a budgeted activity for fiscal year 2019, the team was added to DOD’s unfunded requirements list,” officials told GAO, and there are no plans for future fiscal years. 

The law requires officials in presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense to go through training within three months of their appointment. The training is supposed to focus on leadership, modern organization and operation of the cross-functional teams. However, as of June 2019, none of the 24 officials  who fell into this category had received training or were granted a waiver, according to the report.

GAO recommended that Defense meet the deadlines for review and approval of the five remaining requirements, and the department concurred.

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